Saturday, December 15, 2012

That Cabinet Office Opinion Poll

I have expressed exasperation at the writings of Hannah Beech* of TIME magazine. As a journalist whose beat is not Japan, she has had a habit of overstating her case , chasing after mirages and crashing into mirrors whenever she casts her gaze upon this blessed land.

Which is why I must link to Ms. Beech's most recent post on TIME's website. The writing is a bit too assured but the facts are all there -- and facts redeem. (Link)

The only sentence with which I can take issue is one regarding Japanese attitudes toward China -- and to be fair the sentence may not even of Ms. Beech's composition:

Last year's triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis was supposed to shake the country out of its paralyzing placidity. But little has happened since besides a flurry of civil-society activity and some well-attended antinuclear protests. If the Japanese seem uniformly passionate about anything, it's antipathy toward a rising neighbor to the west. More than 80% of Japanese say they harbor unfriendly sentiments about China, up nearly 10% from last year, according to a survey by Japan’s Cabinet Office. "Ten years ago, I was considered an ultra-nationalist," says Yoshiko Sakurai, a former TV anchor who has written books with titles like he Determination to Stand Up to China. "But now these are ordinary thoughts in Japan."
Now this number is a favorite of journalists, both domestic and non-Japanese. However, is the quotation accurate?

The Cabinet Office's annual Survey on Foreign Relations (Gaiko ni kan suru yoronchosa) is a treasure trove of data points for any journalist, polemicist or annoying blogger. As a long-term time series, it provides a foundation for any argument about major shifts in public attitudes.

The survey (the latest edition, released on November 26 - Link - J), in its section on China, does start out with a question about the emotional aspect of Sino-Japanese relations. However, the question is not "Do you like/not like China?" It is "Do you feel a sense of closeness (shitashimi) with China?" -- to which the responses are:

I feel a sense of closeness 3.9%

If I have to choose one or the other, I feel it 14.1%

I don't know** 1.4%

If I have to choose one or the other, I do not feel it 31.2%

I do not feel a sense of closeness 49.5%

(Link - J)

The combination of the last two figures are what produces the aforementioned 80%.

Though the spectrum of Japanese emotions and the ability of Japanese to express emotions are idiosyncratic, can one really equate a lack of a feeling of closeness with antipathy -- except in the most philological of interpretations?

The Survey, in addition to asking about the degree of affinity respondents feel, asks respondents for their objective view of the Sino-Japanese relationship. The results are quite bleak:

I think the relationship is friendly 0.6%

I guess it is friendly 4.2%

I can't say 1.1%

I don't know 1.3%

It doesn't seem friendly 28.9%

I don't think it is friendly 63.8%

(Link - J)

When 93% of respondents do not think the relationship is going well, they are 1) informed as regards the current state of the relationship and 2) ready for changes in international behavior.

For those wishing to bolster a Japan is becoming more nationalist/militarist/isolationist argument, the Survey will likely disappoint. To the question, "What role should Japan fulfill in international affairs?" the percentages of respondents agreeing with a particular role are [with percentages from the 2011 Survey in ( )]:

Humanitarian relief and peacekeeping 60.7% (61.7%)

Environment and climate change 52.5% (56.0%)

Disarmament and nonproliferation 42.5% (41.0%)

Development in underdeveloped nations 38.4% (36.9%)

Help for refugees and stateless persons 38.2% (38.0%)

Healthy global economic growth 35.7% (39.8%)

Efforts to promote freedom and human rights 35.7% (33.3%)

Development in science and technology 33.6% (34.5%)

International cultural heritage preservation and cultural exchange 24.6% (26.6%)

Other 0.3% (0.3%)

Nothing in particular 1.8% (1.0%)

Don't know 3.3% (4.6%)

(Link - J)

First, note the lack of dramatic year-on-year shifts. Either the Cabinet Office is asking the same folks for their opinions year after year, or views of Japan's role in international affairs are shared by a broad swath of the populace with stability in perceptions over the near- and medium-term.

Second, note the support for Japan taking an active, expansive role in making the world a more peaceful and more humane place.

Third, note the low numbers for cooperation in the spread of democracy and human right or of international advancement in science and technology. Not great news for those who want Japan as an ally in a values-based diplomacy or those wanting to portray Japan as a nation of tech enthusiasts.

Fourth, imagine running the above list past a random selection of citizens of the United States. Yes, I am laughing too.


* No tittering about her thumbnail image (Link). We all try to put our best foot forward. Look at my thumbnail, for Amaterasu's sake.

** This should probably be "I have no opinion either way" rather than "Don't know." A person who does not know his or her own feelings is pitiable.

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